A few years ago, back up in Alaska, I was in a yoga class when the instructor admitted, “I teach yoga because I need it, not because I’m the best at it.” This resonated for me SO deeply and it came back into my mind again when I discovered an opportunity to get my yoga teacher’s certification.
You see, while I have come a LONG way in my yoga journey and I might look pretty flexible to some people, yoga isn’t something I was naturally skilled at when I first began. I have some hyper-flexiblity in some joints, but I never was a dancer and I never worked on what flexibility I had. I also have a tendency to have muscles that get REALLY tight, even to the point it’s caused me some injuries. Add to that the fact that I don’t have your stereotypical “yoga body” that’s advertised in yoga pants ads. I have curves and shorter, stockier limbs and I can’t get into some poses fully because my body just doesn’t do that. I can’t do a handstand (yet) because I don’t yet have the upper body strength. I’m far from the Instagram ideal of a yoga teacher.
But…I think that’s a great thing for my students and I’ll tell you why.
I want to teach the people who, like me, NEED yoga. We’re the people with soreness, tightness, and jobs that put us at risk for all kinds of problems related to sitting or poor posture. We’re the people who start yoga because we’re HURTING or stiff and sore when we wake up or we have trouble getting comfortable to sleep. We’re the stressed out, overscheduled, super tense people who need help even just getting an hour to relax and breathe.
I was stretching in Florida on my vacation a few weeks ago and a friend remarked, “Wow, you’re flexible.” What they didn’t know is the reason WHY I was doing yoga poses on the floor. I was doing them because weight lifting had tightened my glutes (butt muscles…hee, hee!) and my illeo-psoas (weird muscles in your lower back/pelvis) and that tightness was causing shooting pains down my sciatic nerve. I was not doing yoga poses to show off…I was doing them to relieve tightness and pain. I was doing them because I needed them.
I come at yoga from a place of not really being concerned about how deep I or my students get into a pose, but by how deep they get into their own body. For some people, any forward fold is challenging and just getting a hair closer to their toes provides some relief. I’m more interested in how yoga FEELS than what it looks like and specifically, how we can do yoga in ways that make our bodies feel better. I also want my students to see that you can do yoga no matter what your body looks like. You don’t have to look like a Lulemon ad. You don’t have to be young…or skinny…or tall. You can have old injuries or disabilities that mean you have to adjust things. You just have to have a body that might benefit from yoga.
If yoga doesn’t come naturally to you, whether it’s the flexibility, strength, or focus/relaxation parts…those are exactly the reasons why you need it, to work on those parts of it that aren’t easy for you, that don’t just come naturally.
It doesn’t all come naturally to me, either…and I like to show my students that it’s ok to fall out of balance poses and just laugh or it’s ok to modify poses as you need to. It’s ok to love and accept your body and it’s uniqueness rather than getting upset at it for not fitting a mold it was never made to fit.
I don’t do yoga because I’m good at it, although maybe I am nowadays. I do it because I need it. I don’t teach yoga because I’m perfect at it. I teach it because I want to share it with people like me who also need it and who might just find it a little easier to approach with an instructor like me.